Former Telltale narrative designer Emily Buck launched a mentorship program, FirstShot Games, which is geared toward helping new game writers develop and publish their first short game. The new program is a division of Buck's company, Buckshot Interactive.
While the mentorship program is entirely free, those who contribute at least $5 to the Buckshot Interactive Ko-fi account will receive one short-story game per month. Ko-fi contributors will also gain access to articles and other resources focused on game narrative. Funds will go toward supporting the program, as well as Buck's own projects and speaking engagements.
Buck was a narrative designer with Telltale Games and worked on 17 projects during her time there, including The Walking Dead: Michonne and Batman: The Enemy Within. She said that she got her start by running a kids tabletop RPG in grad school, and through writing fanfiction. She also took classes through Playcrafting NYC and MITx.
"I'd been designing narrative encounters and working with established characters as a hobby for at least a decade by the time I started doing it professionally," Buck said in an email. "I would recommend that anyone who is interested in game narrative try running roleplaying games, and write fanfics. They help you develop extremely marketable skills."
Currently, Buck serves as the creative director of her company and is the lead writer for the upcoming Waylanders RPG. Altogether, she has five years of experience working in the games industry. Her credentials are no doubt impressive, and her applicants know it; since announcing the program last week, Buck has already received around 50 applications. Her Ko-fi account goal was met and surpassed within just two days.
Buck said that she's been developing the program since Telltale closed in September 2018.
"I've been wanting to do something like this for a long time, but I needed to be in a position in which I felt like I had the expertise and the time," she said. "It took me a few [months] to get everything in order, and a lot of perspective from friends and colleagues."
So how does the program work? Those accepted to the program will get help writing their first game. The game must be created "in either Twine, Unity, or in Google Drive Suite." The project must be original and not borrow from existing IPs, but in terms of subject matter, Buck leaves it open-ended.
"You can write your first game about wizards, or getting your first period, or about experiencing casual racism, or about someone's father dying, or about playing on the playground, two lizards falling in love, or a wizard that is also a fish, or.... whatever you want!" the application form states.
Games that receive help from the FirstShot initiative should only take two hours to play through, and applicants will have only a year to make the game.
"I hope to give people who love game narrative, but haven't had the resources or support to put their work out there, a chance to ship a product that means something to them," Buck said. "All of the applications I've received have been game ideas that are unlike anything I've ever seen before. The plots, the concepts, and the themes are extremely diverse and new."
Lack of diversity and representation is something that has long plagued the games industry. While there have been strides in recent years, Buck said that there's more that can be done.
"I'm hoping that by letting their voices shine, giving them a lead credit on a project, and providing them with some extra training- all at no cost to them, I can at least make some kind of difference," Buck said. " It's not enough. It's never enough. ...but, it's something."
Applicants are required to publish the game to Buckshot Interactive as a reward for the subscribers, at least for the first month of release. Subsequently, Buck will promote the game, and it will be published on itch.io and Steam. Creators maintain all rights to their work, and they will receive 80 percent of the sales revenue from Steam and itch.io.
"FirstShot isn't just a mentorship program, it's an incubator and a pro-bono publishing agreement," Buck said. "When people apply to FirstShot, they aren't just looking to get general mentorship advice- the goal is to help them ship a particular story-focused game and put it up for sale."